that every time I turn on the television, I’m faced with an endless stream of drug commercials! My goodness, if I took every drug that these commercials recommend, I would be swallowing pills all day long!

“Why Is It…?” was designed by Dr. Steiner to address readers’ questions about human behavior from a social psychological perspective in order to inform and stimulate dialogue about the ways in which our thoughts, feelings and behaviors are influenced by the presence of other people. Dr. Steiner holds a Ph.D. in Applied Social Psychology. In addition to working as a university professor over the last 15 years, she conducts individual and group consultations in matters of social relationships and behavior. Readers are invited to submit their questions anonymously in one paragraph or less to Dr. Steiner at [email protected].

Q: Why is it that every time I turn on the television, I’m faced with an endless stream of drug commercials! My goodness, if I took every drug that these commercials recommend, I would be swallowing pills all day long!

A: Because most of us consider medication as a useful and valuable component to maintaining our health and quality of life, few of us question the efficacy or validity of over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Indeed, many of us consider the availability of medication as one of the rewards and benefits to living in a contemporary society.

What fewer of us realize is that pharmaceutical sales in the U.S. represent a multi-billion dollar industry that generates annual profits at unprecedented rates. During an era plagued by drastic declines in employment rates and stock market indices, pharmaceutical companies have boasted steady and handsome increases in profits. In fact, pharmaceuticals have consistently topped the list of the most profitable Fortune 500 industries for well over a decade.

In 2001, statistics showed that while the overall profits from the Fortune 500’s dropped 53%, the pharmaceutical companies reported increases of 32%, amounting to 37 billion dollars in profits. More current analyses showed that pharmaceuticals showed 141% in annual profits as compared to the 2.3% profit margins reported by the top Fortune 500’s combined! Even more alarming is the prediction that between 2001 and 2011 drug companies expected to increase their prices by a full 138% – a rate that is four times greater than that of the Consumer Price Index (which determines Social Security Benefits – a lifeline for most seniors). No wonder we have been disallowed from purchasing our medications from the reasonably priced Canadian market.

So, why is it that television programming is teeming with commercials for every medication under the sun? The answer is simply corporate profit. While we would like to believe that the pharmaceutical industry is altruistically concerned with our health and well being, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As any psychologist will tell you, health is adversely affected by anxiety, stress and strain. With prescription drug prices reeling out of control, individuals in need of medication are finding themselves faced with the dire choice of affording the medication they require or putting food on the table.

As if the financial strain weren’t enough, drug commercials excel in producing anxiety in the viewing public by their consistent use of “fear tactics” designed to worry us sick! Without variation, these commercials depict pitiful testimonials by models suffering from a wide variety of ailments in the hopes of capturing viewers with similar concerns. Once the “hook” is in place, the manufacturer offers the magic “pill” on a silver platter. This tried-and-true method of mass persuasion is a hallmark effect in social psychology and has been used for decades as a way to lead – or mislead – our conformity in consumer attitudes and behavior. A book entitled, “Worried Sick,” by Norton Hadler, speaks to this dynamic.

Even the term “industry” in connection with pharmaceutical companies should raise a red flag. We are not patients; we are financial resources. When asked why the prices of medications have risen so dramatically, drug companies reply that they require additional funds for necessary research and development. However, statistics show that while only 14% of their profits are dedicated to research, a whopping 31% is channeled into marketing and commercial advertising. As long as they gain/maintain our blind fear and acceptance, their billion-dollar profit margins will continue.

Those inclined to believe that these “remedies” are designed for our benefit need only to make note of the long string of debilitating side effects associated with their usage. The other day, I jotted down the specific warnings associated with an advertised “sleeping aid.” While the drug claims to provide would-be takers with a restful night’s sleep, it also carries the price tag of possible nausea, diarrhea, headaches, blurred vision, potentially fatal tongue swelling, hallucinations, loss of motor control, depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies! I don’t know about you, but this banquet of side effects that will, undoubtedly, result in medical treatment – and oh, by the way, further prescriptions – is enough to keep me awake at night.

In a society that claims to have “waged a war against drugs,” we find ourselves prey to the grandest “pushers” of all: the pharmaceutical industry. My advice? Just say no!